Short Takes

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Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:07 am

Please utilize this thread for your short posts on American films. But if you prefer to use the "Last Film Seen" thread or start a new one, then feel free to do so.
arsaib4
 


Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:29 am

THE JACKET (U.S. / 2005)

Unlike The Pianist (2002), in which Adrian Brody embodied a man who gradually deteriorated but fought to keep himself alive, The Jacket features the star in a role in which he supposedly dies more than once. Brody plays Jack Starks, a Gulf War vet who gets shot in the head during a routine procedural in 1991 (his first encounter with death). After returning home with a severe case of amnesia, things dont go much better for him: hes accused of a murder after he hitched a ride with a stranger and was found passed out with a gun in his hand. Circumstantial evidence leads against him, but due to his mental health, hes found not guilty by reason of insanity and gets institutionalized in one of those One Flew Over the Cookoos Nest-type of environments. The institution is more or less controlled by a sadistic doctor (Kris Kristofferson) who employs his own ways to treat patients, and that includes injecting them with mind-altering drugs and locking them in a morgue drawer (the "jacket" of the title) for hours at a time. While in there, Jack isnt properly able to recall the past, but he does end up time-traveling to the year 2007. There he meets a downtrodden waitress (Keira Knightley), someone he might have encountered in his past, who informs him that he died in 1993. Now its up to jack to find out what exactly happened as time is running out for him.

An interesting premise whose certain facets have been explored with much depth in films like Jacobs Ladder (1990) and 12 Monkeys (1995). The Jacket wants you to believe that it is cerebral and ingenious, but the more one examines it, the less profound it becomes. The project has certainly attracted some big names. It is produced by Section Eight, the independent brand of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. They chose director John Maybury, a Brit who was an understudy of the brilliant Derek Jarman at one point, and directed the formidable Francis Bacon biopic titled Love Is the Devil in 1998. Mayburys background as a visual artist has been put to good use, especially during the hallucination sequences, and hes well aided by DP Peter Deming (Lost Highway [1997], Mulholland Drive [2001]). But some of the compositions are criminally overdone to the point that they start resembling the processes of an MTV-hack. Even with all the time-shifting, the screenplay keeps its head until the final act where any semblance of clarity is sacrificed for melodrama. After the formal rigorosity of The Pianist, this was probably a walk in the park for Mr. Brody, but even in various dissolutory stages he is as brazenly alive here as hes ever been. And that's the main reason why The Jacket seems agreeable even when it's disintegrating in front of our very eyes.

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*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Warner).
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:43 am

IN HER SHOES (U.S. / 2005)

Director Curtis Hansons recent work has been nothing but ambitious: two complex literary adaptations, L.A. Confidential (1997) and Wonder Boys (2000), were followed by a tough-as-nails drama 8 Mile (2002). And while his latest effort, In Her Shoes, might seem like a compromise with its transient, glossy exteriors supporting archetypal characters, Hanson has been able to infuse them and the film with some depth and a touch of wit. Cameron Diaz plays Maggie, a narcissistic, illiterate party animal sans a direction in her life whos practically living off of others. One of them is her responsible yet sensitive older sister Rose (Toni Collette), a corporate lawyer in Philadelphia (another city on the East Coast besides Chicago and Boston that seems to be filling in for New York nowadaysthankfully, I say). Eventually, a confrontation involving the latters man and weight problems forces the former to seek out their grandmother (Shirley MacLaine), who was believed to have abandoned the sisters at a young age after their mother died. Any sitcom-ish tendencies present in the early sequences are offset by the great chemistry between the sisters. But the film finds its true rhythm once the scene partly shifts to Florida, where Maggie goes through a gradual transformation with some help; same goes for Rose whos finally able to find someone who acknowledges her for who she is. So its a shame that Hanson tends to lose sight of the big picture during the prolonged third act, in which the "chick-flick" quotient also threatens to reach unbearable levels. But he consistently coaxes strong, understated performances from the trio who make the film work.

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*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Fox).
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 3:03 am

CONSTANTINE (U.S. / 2005)

"Youre @#%$!" Thats what archangel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton at her most asexual) barks to John Constantine in Francis Lawrence's surprisingly entertaining Constantine. Adapted from -- you guessed it -- a "graphic novel," in this case a series belonging to DC Comics/Vertigo called "Hellblazer," it features Keanu Reeves as the title character: a selfishly doomed urban-warrior who is trying to atone for his sins. Constantine is destined to go to hell (which curiously looked like Los Angeles on a very hot day) because he once attempted suicide due to the fact that he was born with a special ability to locate the half-breed angels and demons among us -- and now, he drives around LA with his cabby friend (Shia LaBeouf) to perform tax-free exorcisms on the "bad" in order to earn a ticket into heaven. Early on in the film, a "Spear of Destiny" gets discovered in Mexico which is soon followed by a suicide of a female patient who had something in common with Constantine. Her twin sister, a devoutly catholic cop (the serenely beautiful Rachel Weisz), investigates the matter, and she eventually ends up crossing paths with Constantine. They discover that the precious balance between good and evil is starting to tilt in the wrong direction.

Director Francis Lawrence makes full use of his music-video background and unleashes some eye-popping visuals in Constantine (cinematography and production/creature design are also top notch). But, thankfully, the film doesnt just move from one set-piece to another, allowing us to spend some time with the characters even though what comes out of their mouths is mostly gibberish. A chain-smokingly noirish Keanu Reeves is riveting to watch (yup, thats right), even when he seems to be channeling the obsessive twitchiness of Nic Cage. He invigorates the film with his sardonic deliveries and especially by parodying his "Matrix" persona thus letting us in on the joke (something the final two installments of "The Matrix Trilogy" failed to do, and thus ended up collapsing under their own weight). Constantines mysticisms and theologies are convoluted to the point that they shouldnt offend anyone, but I have been wrong before. Peter Stormare shows up late as "Lou" (Lucifer, that is), and almost saves the films preposterous finale with his snaky charm, although I was disappointed that Steve Buscemi didnt came as "you know who." But all in all, Constantine is a big, bold, and nasty piece of work featuring B-movie energy that has so often been missing from Hollywood in recent years. I probably havent had this much "fun" since HellBoy (2004), and one thing is for sure: there are no guilty pleasures.

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*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Warner).
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby wpqx » Wed Aug 23, 2006 1:37 pm

I'll keep my own thread thank you Anyways, the only recent short films I've been watching are some of Griffith's early films. Been watching too many at once to really differentiate between any of them, but I can see how so many people made a stink about His Trust, which features a scene of a little girl riding a black servant around the house like a pony, a favorite clip of Spike Lee's.

As far as the films mentioned above, I enjoyed In Her Shoes, but that was about it, just call it enjoyable. Hansen has done better (LA Confidential is in my top 100) but for the first time I actually believed that Cameron Diaz might be able to act. I really think that Hansen is one of the best actor's directors out there, he gets such amazing work out of so many substandard actors.
wpqx
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby justindeimen » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:58 pm

I can't really get a true enough answer on this. But in your opinion, is Griffith a commentator of the times? Or the oft used phrase of being racist?
justindeimen
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 8:13 pm

"I'll keep my own thread thank you Anyways, the only recent short films I've been watching are some of Griffith's early films. "

Yeah, if you want, just use this one for your brief posts on new American films. There is a thread for short films also.

"I enjoyed In Her Shoes, but that was about it, just call it enjoyable. Hansen has done better (LA Confidential is in my top 100) but for the first time I actually believed that Cameron Diaz might be able to act. I really think that Hansen is one of the best actor's directors out there, he gets such amazing work out of so many substandard actors."

Couldn't agree more.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:06 pm

OFF THE MAP (U.S. / 2003)

The definition of whats considered an "independent" film nowadays has certainly broadened. In recent years, weve seen big-budget films financed by sub-divisions of major studios competing with the rest of the market, yet theyre still considered indies. However, that doesnt apply to Campbell Scotts Off the Map. Unlike those "pseudo-indies," it was made with as minuscule a budget as possible, but it languished without a distribution deal for nearly two years after premiering at Sundance in 2003. In most cases, the blame is placed on the distributors for not taking enough chances, but thats hard to do for Scott's effort.

A voice-over narration -- overutilized here, which usually signals that the director doesnt have much confidence in his own abilities -- from a young woman takes us to the summer of 1974 when she was a precocious 11-year-old (Valentina de Angelis) living at an off-the-map location somewhere in New Mexico with her enterprising "earth mother" (Joan Allen) and an almost catatonic father (Sam Elliot). No one quite knows what ails the patriarch, but its probably not that they primarily live off the land and their makeshift house is devoid of any modern comforts. Then one day, another depressed soul, this time a tax-inspector, shows up at their paradise but conveniently passes out perhaps due to the overwhelming milieu or the fact that Allen was in the nude admiring the beauty of a nearby coyote. Needless to say, he ends up staying for a little longer than what anyone in the family expected, but he expectedly (at least to us) ends up bringing about certain changes to this unit.

Scott has a lot going for him in Off the Map: the strong performances from Allen and Elliot; the breathtaking, Malick-esque visuals of Juan Ruiz Ancha; an unusual subject matter. But he fails to properly take advantage. Certainly, the stilted dialogue, part of a poorly written screenplay (surprisingly since writer Joan Ackermann adapted it from her own play) didnt help matters. Another problem here is that our young narrator is the least interesting character; her overly-theatrical performance is annoying to say the least. Instead of adapting a metaphysical and poetic stance (it's possible that he simply isnt capable), Scott chooses a more conventional approach for a film which moves in fits and starts, and ends up grinding to a halt.

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*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Sony)
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:22 pm

DOMINO (U.S. / 2005)

NY Times' chief-critic Manohla Dargis, one of only two major U.S. critics to positively review Tony Scotts Domino, wrote in her review that "it is tough to pinpoint the precise moment when [the film] ceases being just another guns-and-poses divertissement and becomes a lollapalooza of delectable cheap thrills." Actually, it's difficult to find a moment when it isn't both. Dominos title card reads: "Based on a true story... sort of." The "sort of" part was perhaps added after the films real life subject, Domino Harvey, died of a drug overdose a few months before the film's release. She was infamous for rejecting her privileged lifestyle -- as a daughter of actor Laurence Harvey and model Paulene Stone -- to become an L.A. bounty hunter. A sizzling Keira Knightley, whos perhaps still trying to shed the good-girl image, plays Domino with a kick-ass bravado that certainly would've made her proud. Scott is up to his old tricks, however, as he flies through Dominos backstory after we watch her square off with an FBI agent (Lucy Liu). Then the filmmaker tries to "True Romance" Domino, but he isnt working with Tarantino here. Instead, he has Richard Kelly from the now overrated Donnie Darko (2001) who almost tries to write himself into the convoluted script. And thats a shame because at times the film not only relegates its titular character to the background, but also the likes of Mickey Rourke (Dominos bounty hunting partner and an avid porn connoisseur) and Christopher Walken (an obsessive reality TV producer). There aren't many shots in Domino that last more than a second, so if one typically enjoys getting their brains @#%$-out, then they just might fall in love with this film. I was happy with an orgasm.

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*Available on DVD in the U.S. (New Line).
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 24, 2006 4:10 pm

re: Griffith

I think it is exceptionally easy to take Griffith out of context, and therefore easily prove your case that he and many of his films were racist. However this was a man who had a fondness for black people, viewed Abraham Lincoln as the greatest American whoever lived, and just happened to be making movies in a very different social time. People shriek in horror at the actors in black face, but there were no real black actors to speak of, similar to men playing women's roles in Elizabethean theatre. His Trust is a prime example of this misrepresenting. No one would shriek in horror if a white man, or white servant no less gave a little girl a piggy back ride around the house, he would just be friendly to a little girl. However when the girl is white and the man is in blackface it suddenly has a much different connotation. The rest of the film goes to show this "servant" as a loyal and trustworthy to the family he serves, and makes no effort to villify him or demean him any more than a typical servant might be regardless of race. I also think that in the case of Birth of a Nation, Griffith was making a somewhat accurate depiction of the Reconstruction and the history of it was hardly pretty, and it is hard not to come off as racist if you don't whitewash history.
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